Short Meditations in John 3: 5. Twofold Birth Required
Jn 3:6 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit
Previously Jesus had said, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Thus now he explains that that means two sorts of birth, a natural one where the natural baby had been protected in water (in the womb), and now a spiritual one where the Holy Spirit surrounds and fills a person. Some suggest that the reference to water speaks of baptism but it is surely far more likely that Jesus parallels natural birth with spiritual rebirth. (The other interpretation is that Jesus means to be born again you need to be baptised in water and in the Spirit. Although true I think the simple parallel here is of natural versus spiritual rebirth and we will see that in the coming verses)
There is within this something far more obvious that we need to note in this illustration. One of the biggest problems that every human being has is that they are stuck with Sin, this propensity to be self-centred and godless. But we also have an ongoing sense that there is something better that we could be. Thus we find shelves of books on self-improvement in bookshops, or courses you can go on to improve yourself. People want to be different but for all their trying they know that still they are those people prone to getting it wrong and failing. Trying harder doesn’t seem to get us there.
More than this, people have a sense of the divine possibility, or a spiritual possibility, and thus we find all the religions of the world with most of them reaching out through various means to touch the spiritual – but failing, for the material cannot contact the spiritual. We need a part of us changing so that it can make contact with God otherwise we are just fruitlessly reaching out into the void. Somehow we need help from outside us to meaningfully be able to touch God.
However else we might put this, the simplest way is to say we need a new start, but not just a new attempt at doing things differently but our very being changed to be able to operate on a spiritual level as well as a material level. Unless the source of everything spiritual – God – can do something in us and actually change us, we will never be able to relate on the spiritual level despite all our yearnings.
This spiritual birth that Jesus is hinting at has to have its origin with God because we cannot do it ourselves. The best we can do is try harder but that will never enable us to move in the spiritual realm. No, we need God to do something in us that makes us spiritually receptive, able to communicate spiritually, able to communicate with a two-way communication with God Himself. This is what Jesus is working towards as he prompts Nicodemus.